How to Stop a Panic Attack: Four Different Scenarios and Approaches

How to Stop a Panic Attack: Four Different Scenarios and Approaches

1.       How to Stop a First-Time Panic Attack

Seek medical attention. Generally speaking, panic attacks pose no immediate threat to your physical well-being. Recurring attacks will eventually take their toll and poor decision-making can lead to physical injury, but panic alone is not life-threatening. That said, there’s another reason to seek medical attention for stopping a first-time panic attack. The symptoms of an attack may be something more than just panic. Heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness, numbness, etc.—well, let’s just say there’s a reason we tell people to talk to a doctor. We’re not saying you necessarily have to rush to the ER at the first hint of symptoms, but if it feels like something’s really wrong, there’s zero reason to feel ashamed later. (Even if some jerk has the misfortune of telling you that it was “just” a panic attack.)

There’s another reason short-term medical care can be helpful. People who have one attack are at a greater risk of developing panic disorder—in which a person has recurring panic attacks that reinforce his or her tendency to panic. Medical attention can reduce the length and severity of the attack and is thus helpful in minimizing the secondary effects that may or may not emerge. If necessary, medication may be prescribed, though the attack may also subside on its own.

2.       How to Stop a Panic Attack on Your Own

Whether you’ve been through a panic attack before and know what you’re up against, or you’re the stubborn type and you simply refuse to seek medical advice, there are things you can do to hopefully stop a panic attack on your own. First, find a safe place. Or at least a place that feels safer than the one you’re in now. In other words, whether you’re having a panic attack during a concert at the Salt Lake Tabernacle or at a family dinner with the in-laws, remove yourself, at least temporarily, from the situation. Be polite if you can. But get out of there.

A combination of environmental and physical exercise can help mitigate the severity and length of an attack. Once you’ve done the best you can to remove any personal, environmental stressors, start paying attention to your breathing. Or more precisely, bring your attention to the individual breaths that you’re taking. Find a way to mark each breath. You can count them if you prefer, but we recommend using a simple, repeatable phrase that you decide on beforehand. One breath in, one breath out. Or it could be a personal mantra of some kind that you make up on your own.

With time, your breathing and heart rate will gradually slow down, and the attack will subside. Now, if it doesn’t work right away—and it probably won’t—you’re liable to start panicking about not being able to stop panicking. That’s okay. Allow yourself a moment to panic and then start again. One breath in, one breath out.

3.       How to Stop Someone Else’s Panic Attack

Personal insight can be invaluable in coping with panic in the long term, but it’s rare that comforting thoughts alone will stop an attack. Know that it’s difficult-to-impossible for anyone to stay rational in the midst of a panic attack. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer someone comforting words. Just know that you can’t argue away a panic attack.

Instead, do your best to show patience and to give unconditional support to your friend, intimate partner, or family member. The person may be inconsolable at first, but once they start looking to you for help, there is something you can do. Try to do with the breathing exercise together. Or, instead of having the person focus on their own breath, have them focus on yours instead. Slowly, try to match the pace of your breathing to the same rhythm. And, again, if there’s any doubt, have the person seek medical care.

4.       How to Stop a Panic Attack from Coming Back

In the most severe cases, prescription medications may be warranted in the short-term to manage the most acute symptoms. Talk to your doctor, but we also recommend you pay extra attention to the potential for long-term abuse. Have that conversation with your physician from the beginning.

Then, start looking for a therapist who makes sense personally, financially, and geographically. There are all kinds of cognitive and behavioral therapies that can help. Some of them are as straightforward as empathetic listening. Some of them—emdr techniques, for example—sound a little strange and, yet, can be strangely effective. Therapy can reliably deliver at least partial relief from symptoms in the short-term, but studies have shown it makes a big difference in the long run, too.

Marcus Pickett

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